The Living and the Lost is my first completed novel.
This is how it begins...
One can be scarred looking directly at the sun, even if only by accident, so that one will never see anything else, ever again.
The same can be said of the truth.
Such is the way of the world.
1. Gravity and Other Mysteries
This must be death.
The idea presents itself not as a sentence, evolving, but wholly formed. A certainty, as opposed to a realization.
The world isn’t moving. At all. The world is absolutely still even as he senses its motion. Even as everything still intends to move – the traffic on Market Street, the people walking-not-walking, oblivious to their lack of progress.
Even he. Even Alec. Weightless. Tipping-not-tipping, falling-not-falling, absolutely still, confounded by it all.
One thought forces its way through: the pain.
The pain in his shoulder is explosive. A bolt of pain, entering through the shoulder blade and rifling forward, out through the soft divot of flesh at the heart of the triangle between clavicle, cuff and pit.
Another: that man.
That weathered traveler on the far corner, standing there, watching him. Alec caught a glimpse of him, and lost him, and now wills his attention outward in search for him again. That man – bald, skin worn to smooth leather by the sun and years of walking into the wind. Desert boots. Canvas trousers. Linen shirt. Uniquely fully alive in the stillness of this motionless world.
The pain, the traveler, and everything else – his attention bounces off each individually like a drunken bullet in ricochet, like swimming in a circle under water, disoriented, searching for the way up.
Philadelphia and a June morning sun gushing gold down Market Street, its heat already shimmering the people who think they are going somewhere.
Still that pain, stopping his breath, stopping the world. In the space between heartbeats, everything is stopped for the pain. It is radiant, paralyzing his left arm, crippling his stride, turning his stomach, dizzying his head.
The imprint of the Traveler still calls after his attention. He only caught a fleeting glimpse – he’s not looking at that far corner anymore – he’s not even looking that way – and he has no power to turn his head, locked in stillness as everything is. But he knows that he is there. The Traveler. He feels him still.
Lost in this stillness, he’s not ready for the world to move again. Motionless, he’s not ready to be falling. Weightless, he’s forgotten that he weighs anything.
And so instead of falling to earth, the Earth, hinged as it is at his stumbling and worthless feet, springs up mercilessly, swinging up as if suddenly sprung loose, and the sidewalk crashes into Alec’s face.
He hears the bone of his brow thud the cement.
And the world is moving again.
And the Traveler is gone.
Only his shoulder continues heavy, though not with pain anymore. Anymore, he is anchored by the weight of after-pain.
His lungs do not know whether to inhale or exhale and so do neither, suffocating him in indecision. Someone kneeling over him, in front of him, in front of his face, shouting “Hey man! Come on, man! Look at me!”, but he cannot see him. He cannot see anything as his eyes turn inward to panic.
His blood pressure plummets and he sweats cold, dizzy and seasick.
He is on his back now. He must be. He feels the earth behind him, cool, welcoming. It absorbs him, absorbs his weight, absorbs him weightless, absorbs him backwards into a spiraling tunnel of dark. His mind asphyxiating, he feels himself falling upright in a dizzying spin of spiral, twisting down a staircase of iron and marble, slippery with dust and blood.
Desperate for oxygen, his brain goes rummaging through memories for something to breathe.
He was a boy, once. And his parents loved him.
He was a boy, once, in a Catholic school in Baltimore, standing at the end of a long hallway. At the other end, across miles of polished school tile floor, he sees the silhouette of the school’s principal, an enormous pear of a woman in nun’s habit, deliver a walloping to the backside of some nameless young fool caught out in bad behavior. The sun streaks through a window beyond them, illuminating the hallway in glare but for the black shape of the beating.
He watches, rapt in voyeurism, intoxicated by the act of seeing. The boy is struck by feelings he cannot possibly understand at his age and experience. Long before he has the words to articulate such knowledge, he is shaken by the certainty of vocation. The witness receives his calling.
Dizzy with falling flight, he spirals down the stairs, upright balanced on legs fluttering to stay between him and gravity.
He was a boy, once, all grass stains and summer sweat, standing in his mother’s kitchen. He has a question: how can two things possibly ever touch when the distance between them is evidently endless? He holds his hand twelve inches above the the kitchen counter, then six inches, then three, then one-and-a-half, showing at each point another point half-way closer to contact; at each distance, a half-distance, forever. Close always closer but never closed.
“Outside with you,” his mother swishes him out the back door with a wafting hand and an Irish lilt.
Life’s chapters unsequence with his fall.
He was a boy, often.
He was a man, though young, when Emma’s voice called him like a siren.
She is hidden under a spotlight in a room he cannot find while he is under a streetlamp in the mist outside, suddenly intoxicated by the throaty promise of her song, beckoning him to find her, to risk all his riches for the prize of her moan.
And he does.
That first night they find they have just one soul between them, for better or for worse. They find they are inescapable of one another, each the other’s moon, each pulling at other’s tides like bedsheets shifting in the half-light of desire.
One memory more before the fall is complete, before this spiral spills him out into the light of dust and death.
He was a man, watching men die. That old country estate. That massive stone house, the lawn made lush by the steely grey of an angry and darkening sky. He sees it now as if for the first time – the stone, the moss, the earth cut and bleeding, the muddy paste of dirt and death and rotten men.
It is as horrible as it is certain.
And then it is gone.
And with it the dark, weightlessness of the fall.
In its place, he finds himself still and crushed by the unbearable weight of all the light in the world. This is dying, he says, blinded by whiteness. This is surely dying. And he knows he must open his lungs if he is to live. He knows breathing will not happen of its own accord. He knows, if he is to live, he must choose life against all the weight of all of heaven and all of hell.